With Thanksgiving coming up and the holidays steamrolling themselves into retail stores everywhere, I feel this is a good time to talk turkey. For years we were all exposed to the same thing, dried out turkey with a lot of stuffing and not a lot of flavor. I admit it, my family admits it, and my friends admit it. We tried all sorts of things. Big needles, lots of butter, and aluminum foil could not help us. But I have learned a few things since then, and I hope that sharing them will result in better turkeys on dinner tables around the globe.
First off, go get a thermometer. I wrote an early post about them, and this is one of their prime applications. Ovens vary, birds vary, and people vary. Thermometers do not lie. It will single handily improve your bird two fold.
Third, all must rest. All meats, when cook, continue to cook after being removed from the heat. This is called carry over, and a turkey can go from5-10 degrees further once removed from the oven.
Third, stop stuffing it. My mother disagrees with me, but fact is, stuffing ruins turkeys. It causes the turkey to take a lot longer to cook (this is because the stuffing needs to reach the same temperature as the turkey to make it safe) and the turkey is usually 15-20 degrees over what it needs to be when you pull it out. So skip the stuffing and make something on the side. Im sorry, I know stuffing is awesome, but there are plenty of good alternatives out there that will let you keep the turkey moist. But since my mom does not listen to me, I have learned to work around this. Stuffing a turkey will lead to great stuffing and can lead to a good bird if you follow the other steps (especially the next one).
Lastly, and maybe the most revolutionary, is the brine. By brining the turkey overnight you can keep it moist, add flavor, and bullet proof it from your oven. Just like with pork, a turkey can take on a whole new life if brined.
I have included the Good Eats turkey below (my favorite), but a simple brine of sugar, salt, and water will also do in a pinch. I hope you all have a great Thanksgiving.
The Good Eats Turkey
- 1 (14 to 16 pound) frozen young turkey
For the brine:
- 1 cup kosher salt
- 1/2 cup light brown sugar
- 1 gallon vegetable stock
- 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
- 1/2 tablespoon allspice berries
- 1/2 tablespoon candied ginger
- 1 gallon iced water
For the aromatics:
- 1 red apple, sliced
- 1/2 onion, sliced
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 cup water
- 4 sprigs rosemary
- 6 leaves sage
- Canola oil
Combine all brine ingredients, except ice water, in a stockpot, and bring to a boil. Stir to dissolve solids, then remove from heat, cool to room temperature, and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled.
Early on the day of cooking, (or late the night before) combine the brine and ice water in a clean 5-gallon bucket. Place thawed turkey breast side down in brine, cover, and refrigerate or set in cool area (like a basement) for 6 hours. Turn turkey over once, half way through brining.
A few minutes before roasting, heat oven to 500 degrees. Combine the apple, onion, cinnamon stick, and cup of water in a microwave safe dish and microwave on high for 5 minutes.
Remove bird from brine and rinse inside and out with cold water. Discard brine.
Place bird on roasting rack inside wide, low pan and pat dry with paper towels. Add steeped aromatics to cavity along with rosemary and sage. Tuck back wings and coat whole bird liberally with canola (or other neutral) oil.
Roast on lowest level of the oven at 500 degrees F. for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and cover breast with double layer of aluminum foil, insert probe thermometer into thickest part of the breast and return to oven, reducing temperature to 350 degrees F. Set thermometer alarm (if available) to 161 degrees. A 14 to 16 pound bird should require a total of 2 to 2 1/2 hours of roasting. Let turkey rest, loosely covered for 15 minutes before carving.